View from the citadel at Tuzigoot Ruins

Tuzigoot: How To Visit the Ancient Ruins in a Remote Area of Arizona

One of the national park units in Arizona showcasing an ancient archaeological site, Tuzigoot is still off the main tourist track. Built on a hilltop by the same Sinagua who built Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well, the site is close to both. Which make sit easy to visit on the same trip.

Since we’ve been Arizona residents for a few decades, and visited the site often, you can follow our experience for the best way to visit the site.

Our Latest Visit to Tuzigoot

On a quiet fall weekend with not much else to do, we set off on a day trip from Phoenix to Tuzigoot, stopping at Montezuma Castle and Montezuma Well on the way. Weather was perfect finally, after months and months of Arizona heat, so it was a perfect day for the outing. Though living in Arizona, we visited all these sites before, it’s been a while since we stopped at Tuzigoot National Monument.

I remembered it as one of the few sites where no one else ever goes, always deserted. So I was surprised to see quite a few visitors. Not that the site is more accessible than before, but it’s been built up around it since we’ve been there last. So one of the last frontiers of empty spaces in Arizona is getting visitors now.

Not that it’s a bad thing, especially since it’s a National Park. I was glad to see people interested in the history of the ancient tribes who made their homes thousands of years ago in the inhospitable desert. No, we are not the first ones who figured out how to live here. Although we could still learn how to put less strain on the environment.

Anyway, ancient sites always intrigue me, and it seems they have the same effect on many others.

Start With the Visitor Center

Getting out of the car, the first thing we see is the Visitor Center. Built during the excavation of the ruins in 1935, it blends in perfectly with the ancient ruins. This is no accident, they built it this way after excavating the ruins, even using some of the stones from the ruins in its construction. (I’m not sure how I feel about that, but if the ancients don’t mind…).

The stone building would feel cool inside even in the heat of the summer. Walking inside, I stop at the museum to admire the ancient artifacts on display. The exhibits give me an overview of the lives of the ancient Sinagua in the area.

Artifacts in the museum at Tuzigoot National Monument
Artifacts in the museum

Walk through the Ruins

Walking out of the Visitor Center, we head up the hill to the ruins of Tuzigoot.

I stop at the first set of rooms, a plaza in a flat area. It was most likely used in ancient times for daily chores and a gathering place.

As the trail separates, since it is a loop, I wonder for a second which way to start off. I’m walking with my daughter, and let her decide. When we notice my son ahead on the east side, we follow him.

Walking through Tuzigoot Ruins
Walking through the ruins

As the trail turns, we get our first close view of the Citadel or Tower Room. This is the only fully reconstructed room at the site, and normally it gives us an idea of how this ancient pueblo looked like.

The citadel at Tuzigoot
The citadel

When we visit, the citadel is closed for renovations. We can only go up a few steps. Still, we have a great view of the surroundings.

On the trail through the ruins at Tuzigoot
View from the entrance to the citadel

Following the loop, we turn the bend and notice another grouping of rooms. We notice a few different birds on the walls, and my daughter surprises me by telling me all about them and as she starts, she’s giving me a lecture on the birds of Arizona.

The ruins at Tuzigoot, AZ
View of more rooms below the citadel.

We decide not to take the trail to the Southern Point since we can see where it ends, and we have the same view from up where we are. Instead, we continue the loop, turning back towards the Visitor Center.

As we walk, we enjoy another view of the Citadel towering above the rest of the ruins, and the valley below.

Who Were the Ancient People Who Built Tuzigoot

The people known as Sinagua built Tuzigoot around 1100 and lived here until 1400. Not a long time, considering how much trouble they went through to build all these structures. Though it is not quite clear what made them leave after such a short time, while here, they lived off agriculture and trade. But by the time they left the area, the citadel, with 110 rooms, housed about 250 people.

They had connections with others, in faraway lands, trading for shells with people on the coast and for macaw feathers with people from the south in present-day Mexico.

The name Sinagua, meaning without water, stuck for the tribes living in the area. The name originated in 1916 from Dr. Harold S. Colton, founder of the Museum of Northern Arizona in Flagstaff. He called the people from Verde Valley and the vicinity of Flagstaff Sinagua after the name the Spanish explorers gave the San Francisco Peaks, “la sierra sin agua”, the mountains without water.

Obviously, this is not what these people called themselves. But since we have no written records from them, we have no clue of what they called themselves.

But we do know who they were. We also know that, contrary to popular belief, they did not magically disappear. They are the ancestors of the Hopi and a few other present-day Native tribes of Arizona. From their descendants, anthropologists learned that these people were still migrating. They stopped on their journey and built villages, but they didn’t mean to stay there indefinitely. But as they put it, just because you only stop on your journey, if it’s a long stop, it doesn’t mean you don’t build a home for your family.

The Hopi people of northeast Arizona call their ancestors we know as Sinagua Hisatsimom, meaning people of the past.

Tuzigoot – What’s in a Name?

Since no one knows what the original inhabitants called these ruins, it was up to the archaeologists and researchers to name it. An Apache member of the excavation crew suggested naming the pueblo after a water source in the vicinity. He suggested using the Apache name for “crooked water”, from the shape of the Verde River as seen from the top. Tuzigoot is the anglicized version of the Apache name.

About the Area Surrounding Tuzigoot

View from Tuzigoot ruins
The view from the ruins

The views from Tuzigoot National Monument are alone worth the visit. The site overlooks long stretches of the Verde River, cliffs and ridges in the valley below, and the Tavasci Marsh. The Tavasci Marsh, part of Tuzigoot National Monument, is a natural riparian area surrounding an old curve of the Verde River. Designated an important birding area by the Audubon Society, it is home to a large number and variety of birds, including the great horned owl.

View from the ruins of Tuzigoot, AZ
View from the ruins

In a nutshell; things to know about Tuzigoot

  1. What Is Tuzigoot?

    Tuzigoot is the name given to the remains of an ancient pueblo village in the high deserts of Arizona.

  2. Who Built Tuzigoot?

    Tuzigoot was built by people we know as Sinagua, called Hitatsimom by their descendants, the modern-day Hopi people.

  3. Where is Tuzigoot?

    Preserved as the Tuzigoot National Monument, the ruins of the ancient village are in Clarkdale, Arizona.

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Tuzigoot National Monument
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